This work is registered in the Archivio Alighiero Boetti, Rome, under no. 7587 and accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.
In the final years of Alighiero Boetti’s career, the embroidered tapestries that had consumed him for roughly two decades reached monumental proportions, having increased in scale and technical complexity. Spanning 88-inches, the present work is a large and comparatively rare example of Boetti’s Mappe series. Known as Mappa del Mondo or simply Mappe, Boetti’s series of embroidered maps remains his most iconic work. Created in 1990, this stunning, hand-embroidered map belongs to Boetti’s final Mappe series known as the Peshawar cycle, which lasted from late 1984 until the artist’s death ten years later. These Mappe were created by exiled Afghani women living in Peshawar, Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The various factors of time, history, politics and chance are played out in intricate detail across the lavishly executed, monumentally-scaled surface of this embroidered map, making it a powerful and prophetic icon of our fast-paced and perpetually-changing global world.
Boetti’s Mappe have remained among the artist’s most popular work, appealing to an international audience across national, political and socio-economic boundaries. In the present Mappa, the countries of the world are demarcated by their flag in bold, crisp colors, painstakingly-sewn by hand and set against a vast expanse of pale blue thread, the immeasurable length of which recalls the boundlessness of the ocean itself. The Asian continent is rendered in an imposing field of red, though the hammer and sickle of the Soviet flag would be abandoned shortly thereafter. Indeed, due to the intricate, time-consuming nature of Boetti’s Mappe, it was often the case that the borders of certain countries had completely changed by the time the work was finished many years later. Perhaps because of this, Boetti’s Mappe provide a poignant visual record of the ever-changing quality of global conflict and the often arbitrary aspect of prescribed national borders. The map depicted in the present work would be fundamentally altered by the demise of Communism and the fall of the iron curtain in the years that followed.
In the present work, Boetti creates a multicolored, block-like border that runs along all four of its edges upon which a rather cryptic band of lettering is inserted. This particular inscription is of rather significant importance to the artist, as it includes words and phrases repeated in other Mappe and other, large-scale embroidered works. Beginning in the upper left corner, the phrase reads in a counter-clockwise fashion along all four sides as follows: “CONTRO TEMPO CONTRO SENSO CONTRO VENTO CONTRO VOGLIA CONTRO TUTTI E TUTTO ALIGHIERO E BOETTI.” Roughly translated, Boetti’s script reads “AGAINST TIME AGAINST DIRECTION AGAINST WIND AGAINST DESIRE AGAINST ALL.” The alliterative wordplay of the text has long been the hallmark of Boetti’s practice, and indeed, the words chosen— “contro, contro, contro” (“against, against, against”)—form a rather cacophonous refrain, a chant that goes against the very rules by which the world is governed to illustrate Boetti’s underlying principle of ordine e disordine. In this clever inscription, Boetti also references the semiotic breakdown of language itself. The words that Boetti selects can be doubled up to create new ones: “CONTRO TEMPO” turns into “CONTROTEMPO” or “BACKBEAT” and “CONTROSENSO” translates to “NONSENSE.” “CONTROVENTO” becomes “UPWIND” and “CONTROVOGLIA” becomes “UNWITTINGLY.” Illustrative of Boetti’s love of wordplay, the text is fraught with double-meanings and multiple layers of interpretation, which in turn invoke the principles of time and place, direction and meaninglessness upon which the Mappe were built.
An onomatopoeic quality emanates from this reading, underlying the playful, poetic nature of Boetti’s best work. Indeed, the poetical significance of the word “tutto,” which he inscribes as “CONTRO TUTTI E TUTTO” relates to the artist’s Tutto tapestries, the fascinating series of embroidered works that would ultimately be his last. Executed on a vast scale, the exuberant chaos of the brightly-colored Tutto beautifully articulates Boetti’s ordine e disordine concept in which a vibrant array of colorful and diverse imagery is scattered in an allover pattern, not unlike a jumbled-up jigsaw puzzle.
Created in 1990, the present Mappa dates to the final years of the Soviet-backed presidency of Dr. Najibullah Ahmadzai in Afghanistan. At that time, Najibullah was appealing to the United Nations for assistance just before the capture of Kabul by the US-backed Mujahedin in 1992. Working in exile in Peshawar, the embroiderers created the Mappe over a period of many years, as their country underwent countless transfers of power. Their creations tracked this passage of time; in Mappa, the variegated blue of the oceans might be seen as a visual record of time’s passage, with the subtle shifts of color corresponding to the many bobbins of silk thread used at various stages in the map’s creation. Indeed, time is a central theme in the Mappe series, and Boetti’s inscription “against time” in the present work acknowledges the separation of the artist and his collaborators, who were separated by both geography and time.
One of the last Mappe made by refugees from the Afghan war, the present work allows for important reflection on the fluid nature of man-made borders and the cyclical nature of time itself. Taken in this light, the Mappe series can be seen as a dramatic critique of the political power games played out on the world stage, highlighting the arbitrary nature of political divisions and the human trauma it inflicts. As borders, countries and flags change and alter between tapestries—sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically—in response to changing regimes, periods of conflict, and shifting power structures around the world, Boetti’s Mappe record them all. As a powerful reminder of the constantly changing nature of the world, Mappa is one of the most persuasive and moving examples of the artist’s belief that the world exists in a state of a constant flux, of disordered chaos united by its own intrinsic nature into a greater whole.